It's tempting to label all of this "surrealism," but we needn't be that pretentious about it. Let's call it burlesque instead, in the sense of the word I favor: an exploitation of art's innate unreality. It's also burlesque in the sense of parody, mocking both conventional American westerns and spaghettis. The main characters are clowns. Custer (Mastroianni) is childishly vain and petulantly pompous. He has a habit of stomping his heels to salute a woman or a superior officer, no matter how annoying it proves to his superior, General Terry (Phillipe Noiret). He also does the stomp in the middle of the final battle, whenever he kills an Indian. His rival, Buffalo Bill (Michel Piccoli, who seems to be trying for an American accent) is an egotistical blowhard who proves not to have the stomach for combat. They're creatures out of vaudeville who nearly convince you that Ferreri has made the first Marx brothers movie without a Marx in it -- unless you assume that Karl is in there somewhere.
Above, a dark-haired Custer (Marcello Mastroianni) and his lady (Catherine Deneuve).Below, "the madman" (Serge Reggiani) serves up sound advice along with some slop to Chief Sitting Bull (Alan Cuny)
Ferreri's film also testifies to the director's luck exploiting found objects. Later in the decade, he'd go to New York and build Bye Bye Monkey around a discarded King Kong from the 1976 remake. In Don't Touch he makes inspired use of his once-in-a-lifetime location opportunity with the help of cinematographer Etienne Becker, creating indelible images that are no less epic for being mock-epic. The comedy may be too broad to be cool for some viewers, but the pictorial juxtapositions are nearly apocalyptic in the old sense of a revelation, and in some ways anticipate the tropes of post-apocalyptic cinema. Take or leave the story, but Don't Touch the White Woman is one of the most visually striking films of the 1970s.
Here's a trailer that avoids the money shots of the urban locations, as if trying not to scare off viewers. It was uploaded to YouTube by LindbergSWDB.